Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EST
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:49 PM EST
“We’re so proud of our city for showing that hockey is such a big deal here.”
Jan 25, 2015, 9:25 PM EST
“This is something I’ll remember for a very long time.”
Marc-Andre Fleury would like to remind the Columbus crowd that the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets in the playoffs
Jan 25, 2015, 8:59 PM EST
“I remember them being quiet in the end when we won.”
Jan 25, 2015, 8:16 PM EST
29 goals in all.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:36 PM EST
11 in total, eclipsing the old mark by one.
Jan 25, 2015, 6:43 PM EST
Chicago will resume play on Wednesday against Los Angeles.
Jan 25, 2015, 6:18 PM EST
Johansen scored again before the first period ended.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:43 PM EST
Vancouver forward gets Team Foligno on the board early.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:58 PM EST
A grab bag of fun as the game rapidly approaches.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
It’s the 2015 NHL All-Star Game from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, on NBCSN.
Jan 25, 2015, 3:33 PM EST
Team Foligno and Team Toews square off.
Jan 25, 2015, 3:20 PM EST
He’ll probably be OK.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:02 PM EST
The bubble seems limited, at least.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:48 PM EST
He has more control over his chances in the All-Star Game itself.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:54 AM EST
Maybe we should ease up on the guy.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:50 AM EST
A rare opportunity sidetracked by his groin injury.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
It sounds like he won’t face the same headaches as others who skipped the event.
Jan 24, 2015, 10:03 PM EST
See you all tomorrow.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:41 PM EST
Florida’s All-Star goalie never gave up on it.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:14 PM EST
Just 0.3 away from Zdeno Chara’s all-time record.
- Blue Jackets proud as Columbus shows it’s a hockey town 0
- From contract dispute to All-Star MVP, Johansen’s had quite the year 1
- Marc-Andre Fleury would like to remind the Columbus crowd that the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets in the playoffs 8
- Cannonball Run…and gun: Team Toews wins highest-scoring game in ASG history 13
- Supercut: Every goal from the highest-scoring period in All-Star Game history 5
- Video: Team Foligno survives shootout, wins Skills Competition 4
- Video: Weber wins hardest shot with 108.5 mph blast 13
- Video: Lightning’s Drouin wins fastest skater 7
- WATCH LIVE: NHL All-Star Skills Competition 2
- Will the Youngstars even have a chance? (Updated) 12
- Columnist: Flyers ‘orchestrated’ fight night versus Pens during meal at ‘a local steakhouse’ (130)
- Flyers’ Rinaldo: ‘I changed the whole game, man’ (112)
- Video: Rinaldo tossed for boarding Letang (79)
- Report: Flyers’ Rinaldo waives right to an in-person hearing (61)
- Video: NHL offers Flyers’ Rinaldo in-person hearing (57)